Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Toubab Dialaw

On the main highway leading out of Dakar, the Valdmanis family's Renault station wagon passes a dilapidated commuter bus with four sheep standing on its roof. The animals balance precariously as the bus tackles deep potholes and spews black exhaust. A few minutes later, all forward progress is halted by a herd of big horn cattle crossing the highway, escorted by three wizened men in Arab desert robes and headdresses carrying sticks.

"Traffic's not too bad today, thankfully," one of us says.

This weekend was our first road trip out of town with the boys, and our destination was a tiny fishing village and artist community called Toubab Dialaw. At just 50 kilometers away from our house, we intended to leave after breakfast and arrive by 10 am to settle in for a full day on the beach and an overnighter at the Sobo Bade artist commune/hotel.

What we didn't realize was that, about 7 kilometers past the goat market near the Oil Libya gas station, there is a right turn that heads to the sea. We went straight instead and ended up in the middle of a sun-baked wildlife reserve -- Bandia -- that is home to giraffes, and more alarmingly, rhinos.
At about this moment, the car starts acting up, like there's a problem with the fuel delivery. A plugged hose or filter? Bad gas?

"Do you know where we are?" one of us says in a voice that betrays serious concern.

Dylan and Laird, as if on cue, wake from their nap as the car lurches through a flat grassland flecked with trees stretching to the horizon. Who knows what is lurking out there. There's no hint of ocean. I can feel the heat beating through the roof of the car. I wonder if we have enough water to survive if the car dies. Dylan and Laird start crying.

About 20 tense kilometers later, we find a man who tells us we need to take a right turn at the next crossroads, travel over two hills and then take a left at the big baobab tree. We say thanks and move on.

The car is still lurching, but not breaking down. The odometer says we've already gone 100 km. Bit by bit, we start seeing evidence we're on the right track -- a sign for the Saly region, where many of the best beaches are; a huge SUV filled with white people; a crossroad and two hills; a big baobab tree. Sigh...

It is about lunchtime by the time we reach Toubab Dialaw, a colourful hamlet nestled on a cliff overlooking a white sand beach and rocky outcroppings. Sobo Bade is basically a compound on the edge of the village, built onto the cliff. It is full of artsy types -- a group of dreadlocked senegalese musicians play guitar, kora and djimbe in a shady garden set back from the ocean, handmade posters advertise batik and yoga classes, a market sells african masks, sandals and paintings, and the french expat owner looks like 'mother earth'.

We settle in to our room and walk down the rock path to the beach with our giant orange twin stroller. The waves are gentle and the water is perfect -- cool enough to ward off the afternoon heat. Laird and Dylan get into their swim trunks and sun hats and we carry them in -- they're giggling like maniacs.

That evening we stroll through the village and then have dinner on a high balcony perched on the cliff overlooking the beach. The swimming has made Laird and Dylan sleepy. On the sand below, we watch a soccer match and artisanal fishing canoes coming back from the sea. The sun starts to set. We finish off some chocolate crepes and our last sips of wine.

We head back to our room, on the edge of the garden. For some reason we're all exhausted from the day. Kelly and I cancel our planned game of backgammon and we all go to sleep around 8pm to the sound of a drumming circle not far away.

Fascination with the 'white twins'.

Laird going for the waves.

Crawling all over Mommy and Daddy

Dylan on his 26th mile of the Sand Crawling Marathon.

Headed for surf with Dad.

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